Belfast Telegraph

Building foundations for strong rural community

The £16m rural poverty and social |isolation framework is not a panacea but it is a strong start, says Michelle O’Neill

As a rural dweller, I am aware of the difficulties facing many people living in our community. I often meet and hear about the plight of the most vulnerable — be they the elderly, young people, or those with disabilities.

I am, therefore, fortunate that, as minister, I have the opportunity to help those most vulnerable living in our rural communities. The Tackling Rural Poverty and Social Isolation framework provides a package of £16m, to end in March 2015, to help the most vulnerable rural dwellers.

I aim to bring forward a range of new measures and to build on the previous work my department has been doing to help those living in poverty.

My department’s ongoing work in tackling rural poverty and promoting social inclusion has been a crucial part of showing others, both inside and outside of government, what makes a difference in a rural context.

As much as there are challenges that come with living in a rural area, living there can also bring a sense of pride and belonging.

I want to ensure that our rural areas continue to be sustainable and that we support the most vulnerable, who are often forgotten about, but who can make an enormous contribution to society.

This funding will provide a wide range of projects and programmes that address access poverty (such as access to benefits, education and training programmes and public transport), financial poverty (addressing low incomes and additional costs associated with rural areas) and social exclusion and isolation.

This framework has a direct link to the Rural White Paper action plan, which is being finalised and will be brought to the Executive shortly.

One of the actions in the plan relates to tackling poverty and social isolation and this framework demonstrates my commitment to addressing the needs of rural communities. This £16m intervention will not be a panacea for all the problems faced by vulnerable rural people, but it will go some way to help those in need.

So what we have is a framework that focuses on poverty and disadvantage in rural areas and provides us with the mechanisms to give people a better quality of life throughout the rural north.

Most importantly, we have an action plan setting out what will be done and providing the flexibility to react to emerging issues.

Over the past 10 months, I am pleased to say that intervention on the ground has continued, through provision of concessionary travel for rural smart pass holders, maximising access to grants, benefits and services by supporting home visits by trained enablers, funding the rural support charity to provide assistance to rural families facing difficulties and community development and support of more than 800 groups.

New initiatives include: household insulation to improve energy efficiency; a farm family and rural community health checks programme; a rural youth employability programme; rural young entrepreneurs programme; and a services for older people project.

A scheme to assist rural dwellers without access to a wholesome water supply through provision of a bore well is also nearly ready.

Like most of the initiatives, this scheme is developed in conjunction with another government department — the Department for Regional Development.

Work on another scheme to address localised poverty and isolation issues is underway, while work on rural broadband continues.

I remain committed to addressing poverty and social exclusion for the good of all who live in rural areas.

Michelle O’Neill is Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development

Belfast Telegraph


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